Glendening Mandates New Ethics Rules
By Scott Wilson
In response to a legislative recommendation, Glendening (D) also created a commission to review state health care contracts, which were at the center of a recent Senate ethics scandal and the governor's own fund-raising controversy two years ago. The panel will have the authority to send questionable contracts to the Maryland attorney general for investigation.
"It is vital to the public interest that the health care procurement process be fair, efficient, and free of any actual or potential conflicts of interest," Glendening said in a statement. "I believe we must do everything possible to ensure that the citizens of Maryland have confidence in state government."
Glendening's actions come as ethics controversies continue to dominate the part-time legislature in Annapolis. Sen. Larry Young (D-Baltimore) was expelled from office in January for using his public position as chairman of a health care subcommittee to advance private business interests. Del. Gerald J. Curran (D-Baltimore) also left amid an investigation into whether he used his office to benefit his insurance business.
The scandals have set the stage for an election-year battle over the integrity of public officials, with Glendening himself a potential target for Republicans.
Some rivals, for instance, are trying to capitalize on the governor's appearance at a 1996 fund-raiser sponsored by a New Jersey health care firm. Glendening returned all the contributions from the fund-raiser after newspapers learned that the firm was trying to win a $25 million health care contract from the state at the same time.
While admitting some mistakes, Glendening has repeatedly said his administration's ethical standards are high. But he has said little about the recent episodes in the legislature, some of which involved State House allies.
Some rivals scoffed at yesterday's announcement. "Clearly this has to be seen as an election-year ploy," said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Republican gubernatorial candidate who narrowly lost to Glendening in 1994. "He's had 3 1/2 years . . . to address ethics problems. I can't think of anyone who needs this kind of guidance more than Parris."
But some state lawmakers disagreed.
"Regardless of what his political motivations may be, this is a good government proposal," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo (D-Howard). "Some lawmakers will say this is just more paper. But I think that's a small price to pay for restoring public trust."
Sen. Robert R. Neall (R-Anne Arundel), who is supporting Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker's bid for the Republican nomination for governor, said Glendening is in a difficult position: one in which he is blamed if he gets involved in a State House scandal and criticized if he remains quiet. "I think all of it is appropriate," Neall said.
Glendening's proposal is a response to recommendations made this year by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, which monitors conflicts of interest involving the General Assembly's 188 members. Separately, General Assembly leaders are sponsoring legislation that would create a separate commission to review conflict-of-interest rules in the legislature.
"This is exactly what we wanted him to do," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany). "It's so obvious to everybody that he is following through on recommendations the legislature has given him."
But Glendening's proposals go beyond what the legislature has asked for. For instance, Glendening announced plans to give additional funding to the state prosecutor, who investigates official corruption and whose office some say has been short on resources. The governor's plan also requires state agencies to forward written contracts with elected officials to the appropriate ethics committee. Young came under criticism from the legislative ethics committee for signing a contract with Coppin State University, a state institution that some legislators said he should have been promoting as part of his official duties.
A copy of those contracts would also be on file for public review and posted online. But procurement experts said privately that the rules would not catch corporations doing business with the state that are partly owned by elected officials.
Meanwhile, Maryland's candidates for governor have been proposing their own prescriptions to clean up Annapolis. Ecker proposed limiting state lawmakers to two terms. Democratic candidate Ray Schoenke wants to add three citizen members to the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. Sauerbrey proposed giving the state prosecutor subpoena power, a proposal the General Assembly rejected this year.
The Republican Party, long the minority in Maryland, is packaging the rash of ethics scandals involving Democratic lawmakers into an election issue. "The theme running through the campaign will be restoring integrity to government," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party.
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